'Rare earth' elements could be a boon for North Dakota

Jun 12, 2018

There’s a lot of interest in what are called “rare earth elements.”

They have been found in North Dakota’s lignite deposits.

"They're 14 different elements," said North Dakota state geologist Ed Murphy. "They make very strong, and relatively small, magnets."

Murphy said they're used in things such as cell phones, solar technology and wind turbines.

"Every time we go out, we find a little bit higher levels of those rare earth elements," Murphy said. "We have found the highest concentration of those elements in coal in the nation."

Murphy said the hope is to find consistently high levels of those elements in North Dakota lignite. He said  having those consistently high numbers would bring in exploration.

"In the meantime, the Energy and Environental Research Center and the Institute for Energy Studies at the University of North Dakota are looking at how to extract those rare earth elements out of the lignites," Murphy said.

Murphy said rare earths are called “rare,” because they’re difficult to find. He said these developments could be an exciting opportunity for North Dakota.